Similar to many TV series and movies out there in the world, death is usually something many anime creators are afraid to deal with. Killing off a main character could potentially ruin an entire series/franchise and turn fans off due to their favorite character being deleted from the show. Real-life shows like The Walking Dead or Game of Thrones kill off popular characters often for shock value but they also prove that life is precious and isn’t like a video game. We sadly can’t just hit restart and try again like in games.
Recently, anime has been adopting more and more the concept of reincarnation or restarting for an anime lead. Subaru from Re:Zero can return to “checkpoints” if he dies and Okabe Rintaro—Steins;Gate—can just hit a few lines of text on a phone and undo the past to try again. Resurrection in the anime world isn’t new but don’t you ever wonder if it should be considered cheating for not only the main character but also for the authors?
Wish, Return, and Smile
In Dragon Ball Z—a beloved shounen series—characters die left and right after losing against tough opponents and their death should really hit you in the heart. Sadly, in the world of DBZ exist Dragon Balls which can make wishes come true and if a wish is used to bring back the dead, then it shall be done, as Shenron—the wish-giving dragon—loves to say. Here’s the reality, folks, this diminishes said death and makes a death’s impact feel hollow. When a character dies in a story, it should shock you to the core like when—spoilers—Koro-sensei dies in Assassination Classroom or when Ace sacrificed his life to save Luffy in One Piece. Death should have you in tears; not laughing that an author can just throw in some wish device to resurrect anyone who dies with utter ease.
Made a Mistake? Reload the Game!
As gut-wrenching as it is to see Subaru keep dying and have to redo segments of his adventure to save a life only to fail again is, the fact that he can fail and just restart from an earlier moment makes his death seem, initially, quite meaningless. Yes, you feel incredibly bad seeing Subaru lose a loved one—especially if it's Rem—but knowing he can just kill himself to try again makes the entire story feel similar to a visual novel, just reload a save point and try to find the mistake you made originally. We loved season 2 of Re:Zero due to the fact that they showed Subaru’s deaths weren’t without consequence. Various times when he died, that version of the world continued on and his death caused great harm to those who truly loved him or needed him. If more series did this, then our entire article would be moot. Sadly, for now, when characters fail and just resurrect, their death becomes almost like a means to just try again and again until they get the correct end result.
No Death=No Consequence
As soul-crushing as Higurashi is or Steins;Gate can be, death in these series acts only as a minor shock or means of psychological pain for the characters forced to endure constant death/revival. When Major Hughes from Full Metal Alchemist died, fans across the world cried for weeks. When Keiichi died in Higurashi, fans wondered how he would die next time. Losing the concept of death results in the loss of consequence. An anime hero can go against someone twenty times stronger than him—like most shounen heroes—and you’ll know they won’t die. Someone stronger will save them or the enemy will somehow die from a new power developed last minute by the protagonist.
Are you a frequent Japanese poll reader who watches popular characters rise and fall in the ranks monthly? If you are, then you know the bread and butter for some anime/manga series are those popular characters. An author who decides to kill them off might as well kill off their series as many fans will begin to riot at the loss of their favorite heroes/heroines and wonder why the author would axe their best character. Removing death from a story removes the author’s biggest worry and ultimately is the best way to “cheat” to avoid their series/work from failing.
Death is one of the hardest things to deal with both in real life and for us otaku as we bear witness to our favorite characters being removed from our favorite works. That is why resurrection in anime—whether it be from a power or wish—can be a bit of a cheat device for creators. Yes, our favorite character lives again but the impact from their failures going forward feels very weak. Ultimately, death is an important tool for authors but often is considered a last resort to avoid killing off a truly prominent character.
Have you ever felt the way we do about death in anime? Comment below to let us know as we’d love to hear your thoughts! For even more anime articles dealing with tough issues like this keep stuck to our amazing hive here at Honey’s Anime!